As WWII memories fade, a Netherlands town refuses to forget

Martijn Beekman/AFP/Getty Images

Though they came from cities and towns all over the United States, this is home for 8,301 men, about 235 of them from Minnesota. Another 1,722 are memorialized on a wall; they’re still missing.

The American War Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, The Netherlands is like no other. Since 1945, the people of Margraten have adopted a grave, and researched the lives of the fallen. They never stop honoring the Americans who helped save their country. Never.

Since 1946, for example, Jan and Gretha Sins and their family have cared for the resting place of Sgt. Louis J. Glavan of Kinney, Minn. When Gretha died a few years ago, her daughter, Patricia, took over the duty, according to Louis’ nephew, Tony Glavan.

Anthony Glavan made his first trip to Margraten in 2001, and met Gretha Sins, who adopted his uncle Louis’ grave. Photo courtesy of Anthony Glavan.

After the Nazis crossed the Maas River into the Netherlands, “he was sent to Germany to work in a factory making artillery shells,” Glavan says. “He had lost his freedom. He remembered that.”

Jan and Gretha Sins at the gravesite of Louis Glavan of Kinney, Minn.

Every two years, the graves and names on the wall are decorated with their photos. Seventy-four Minnesotans have no accompanying photograph. So Dutch and American volunteers are trying to find one in time for this year’s tribute, being held May 2-6.

Tony Glavan, a Medtronic retiree in Coon Rapids, acknowledges he’s not an expert in sleuthing, but he’s taken on the Minnesota part of the project spearheaded by Joek Hulsman, a Medtronic employee in the Netherlands. Hulsman’s grandfather was in the Resistance and as he was traveling by train to go into hiding, the train was strafed by an Allied plane, killing him.

Hulsman’s Medtronic employee group, wanting a Minnesota connection, has adopted Bernard Erickson on the Wall of the Missing. He hailed from Virginia, Minn., just a few miles from where Glavan grew up.

“The people of Margraten really want to know more about these soldiers,” Glavan told me.

Glavan, 61, has been to the cemetery three times and comes by detective work honestly.

He was taking pictures in the cemetery in 2015, when he saw Sophie and Jan Rozestraten pausing by a gravestone.

Her family had initially adopted the grave of Robert Omara of New Jersey, who was one of several soldiers billeted in her home in 1945.

“He said to her, ‘here’s my mom’s mailing address, send her a letter if something should happen, let her know,'” Glavan said. Omara was killed not long after. Sophie sent her letter.

After the war, Omara’s body was exhumed and returned to the U.S. Not long ago, Glavan traveled to New Jersey, found Omara’s grave, and sent the picture back to The Netherlands to let Sophie know he was OK, though it doesn’t appear he’s getting the attention he’d be getting were he still in Margaten.

With Omara moved, Sophie’s family adopted another one: Clement Siracusano, of New York.

“Sophie and Jan have been going to the cemetery every single Memorial Day since the war war ended,” Glavan says. “She would like to be in contact with family to let them know.”

So would Glavan, knowing that Sophie is in her nineties now and time is running out. But so far his search for the family of Clement Siracusano has come up empty.

Not so for Donald E. Bergstrom, who hailed from Kelliher, Minn. Glavan and another searcher found relatives in Washington state this week and his picture will be posted on The Wall of the Missing in May.

That leaves 74 72 71  Minnesotans to go.

Aldrich, Pvt. Louis T., Jackson County
Anderson, Pvt. George R., Ely
Arnold, Pvt. Levi A., Baudette
Bajula, Pvt. John R., Brainerd
Bertelson, Sgt. John E., Rush City
Bren, Pvt. Bennie F., Jr., Hennepin County
Burmeister, Tech. Rueben B., Fairbault
Butsch, Sgt. James A., Owatonna
Cassellius, Pvt. Bernard E., Wright County
Cheadle, Pvt. Aaron C., Stearns County
Cheney, Pvt. Russell D., Aitkin County
Chester, Pvt. Lewis H., Polk County
Christensen, Tecyh. Holger R., Pipestone County
Detlefsen, Pvt. John, Brown County
Dodge, Pvt. Howard R., Hector
Dodge, Sgt. William H., Virginia
Ellerbusch, Pvt Herbert W., St. Louis County
Evans, Pvt. Roy W., Brainerd
Gilcreast, Lt. William L., Wabasha County
Gough, Pvt. Robert F., Clarkfield
Hallett, Pvt. Marvin C., St. Louis County
Halvorson, Sgt. Robert L., St. Louis County
Hastings, Lt. Winthrope N., Mankato
Haugen, Tech. Rolf E., Kenyon
Heiberg, Lt. Lowell M., Twin Valley
Hellerud, Pvt. John H., Minneapolis
Hickerson, Pvt. James O., Beltrami
Hillstrom, Pvt. Rudolph E., Red Eye Township
Jenson, Pvt. Henry, Goodhue
Johnson, Cpl. Leonard M., Two Harbors
Kayute, Pvt. Marvin E., Duluth
Kobilka, Richart T., St. Paul
Kosloski, Pvt. Paul L., Hennepin
Lambrecht, Sgt. Alexander, Isanti
Lehmann, Lt. Monroe J., Mason County
Ligaard, Sgt. Herburne W., Hennepin County
Lister, Pvt. John J. Paynesville
Longton, Cpl. Gordon T., Minneapolis
Madetzke, Pvt. Kenneth H., Faribault County
Moen, Pvt. Richard S., Hennepin
Munn, Pvt. David L., Minneapolis
Nason, Pvt. Charles M., Moose Lake
Nelson, Pvt. Percy C., Lac Qui Parle
Olson, Lt. Leo G., Pine County
Olson, Tech. Rudolph, Cokato
Peck, Pvt. Robert F., Hennepin County
Peterson, Pvt. Lloyd M., Duluth
Phillips, Sgt. Hymen, Hennepin County
Powell, Pvt. Charles L., Minneapolis
Reed, Pvt. Norbert G., Nicollet County
Reichenbach, Sgt. Theodore, St. Louis County
Robillard, Tech. Frank C., Hennepin County
Roth, Pvt. Wesley F., St. Louis County
Rutjes, Cpl. Donald A., Mankato
Ryan, Cpl. Edward J., St. Louis County
Sahlberg, Sgt. Raymond E., St. Paul
Sam, Pvt., Paul, Isle
Sandness, Pvt. Ervin A., Faribault County
Schafer, Pvt. Harlan E., Germania Township
Schmitz, Lt. Howard W., Wright County
Schneider, Tech. Elmer E., Sugar Bush Township
Schulte, Pvt. Herbert F., Renville County
Scott, Pvt. James W., Faribault County
Skube, Pvt. Steve G., Ely
Smisek, Sgt. Milton C., Foreston
Spevacek, Pvt. George F., Renville County
Storch, Pvt. Lawrence A., Redwood County
Tate, Sgt. Robert J., Madelia
Twetten, Lt. Norman E., Washington County
Westlund, Sgt. Clarence R., Carlton County
Wolstein, Cpl. Isadore, Hennepin County
Works, Pvt. George S., Hector
Yonak, Pvt. Leo E., Monticello
Young, Cp. Gerald E., Ramsey County

Glavan says there’s some irony in his search. For as much as the Dutch don’t want to forget the American soldiers, some of the American families have. Occasionally when he makes contact with a family, he finds they know little about their fallen family member, or have no picture to share.

That won’t happen to Louis Glavan or his brother, Fred, who was also killed and is buried in Luxembourg. In all, six Glavan brothers went off to war. Louis almost made it home.

Sgt. Louis Glavan was with the 1st Infantry Division, 18 Infantry Regiment. He fought in North Africa, Sicily, went ashore on Omaha Beach at around 12:30 in the afternoon of June 6th, 1944. He’s shown here in the Normandy area around mid-July 1944 after they were pulled off the front lines to get rested before the huge battle to break out of the Normandy area. Photo courtesy of Anthony Glavan

The Germans surrendered on May 7, 1945.

“You look at the graves in Margraten,” Tony Glavan says, “and a lot of these guys were killed in March and April ’45. They were so close to making it home.”

  • MrE85

    Fort Snelling National Cemetery seems to be well-cared for and maintained. Barring the unforeseen, that’s were my ashes will rest. If anyone want’s to drop by and say “hello,” I’ll be listed as Sp4 Robert J. Moffitt, US Army. Or you can just drop me an email now. 😉

    • I’ll swing by to pay my respects when I do the same for my father. Most of HIS ashes are there as well, with a bit scattered through our Paris and Rome (don’t tell the Pope).

      • MrE85

        Then I’ll be in good company.

        • Feel free to take your time getting there though.

          • MrE85

            Thanks. I’m counting on it.

          • Joseph

            You are a better conversation partner alive and on here. Don’t leave us too soon now.

          • Meribah

            Onan??? I hope you are a farmer LOL.

  • Gary F

    On my bucket list.

    • Have you been to Normandy?

      /And yes, this seems like a fine trip as well.

      • Gary F

        I haven’t been to Europe yet. Bucket list. Normandy, Luxembourg, Germany, Poland just to name a few. I figure that’s after retirement. So I can spend as much time as I want without feeling rushed or what’s happening at work back home. The German Luxembourger in me needs to go.

        • You’ll have a great time. I try to get back over when I can. So much history to be had.

          (Going to Iceland/Norway/Estonia/Russia in 3 weeks.)

          • Barton

            You’ll love Estonia – Talinn is just so cool and the people are so very friendly!

          • Joseph

            I’m heading to Germany/Austria/Liechtenstien/Switzerland/France this summer with the St. Cloud Municipal Band! We are going to perform a bunch of concerts with local community bands in those countries, starting with our sister city of Spalt Germany! 🙂

          • Sounds like an awesome trip! Have fun!

          • Excellent…and that’s where we are going!

        • Tony Glavan

          If you go to Luxembourg, go to the American Cemetery in Hamm, a suburb of Luxembourg City. General Patton is buried there. And so is my uncle, Pfc. Fred Glavan, brother to Louis. Maybe you could place some flowers on his grave for me?

    • Tony Glavan

      To those mentioning the Netherlands American WWII cemetery on their bucket list, let me suggest that the best time to go would be when they observe our Memorial Day. It’s on Sunday, the day before our Memorial Day. Thousands of Dutch people attend the ceremony or come that Saturday to place flowers. Saturday is also the day they place an American and a Dutch flag on all 8301 graves. That Saturday is nearly better than the Sunday observance so hey, go both days. you WILL NOT be disappointed!

  • jon

    I’ve mentioned my netherlandish ancestors here before (I’ve probably said dutch, but that was a generalization, my ancestors (at least the ones we can trace back) came from friesland, not Holland. It’s a distinction most english speakers don’t care about, but the netherlandish, I gather, appreciate that there are 9 other provinces in the netherlands…)

    I’ve mentioned my grandfather was in WWII before.

    I know if he spent much time near Margraten, though given what I do know about where he was stationed at various times during the war, he probably passed through the vicinity more than once… he was a truck driver who became an ambulance driver, (and at one point a cook) so he spent his time driving to and from where the fighting was, I believe he was doing ambulance work during the battle of the bulge… which puts him in the area, at the time…

    While my grandfather returned home, married my grandmother, and had a bunch of kids, I know that others were so luck, and I thank my netherlandish cousins for remembering them.

    I don’t recognize any of the names, but my family was in illinois at that point in time… Anywhere I can find the complete list of missing photos?

    • My guess is Joek Hulsmann would also have a spreadsheet of missing Illinois soldiers and be glad to have your assistance.

      • Joek Hulsmann

        I do, just drop me an e-mail! Thanks Bob !! Meanwhile, we have found photos of Henry Jenson and Rolf Haugen from Goodhue.

    • bpost

      Chuckling here–as one of Zeeuwse descent and married to someone of Frisian ancestry.

  • Mike Worcester

    //Olson, Tech. Rudolph, Cokato

    I can assure you that the staffs of two museums in Wright County are assisting in this specific case, including finding a photo of Sgt. Olson and looking for descendants.

    • >>Dodge, Pvt. Howard R., Hector<<

      There is a 44 year old "Dodge" living in Hector right now. I wonder if he's any relation?

      /I'll contact the Hector Historical Society.

      • Tony Glavan

        Ironically, I just found the nephew of William Dodge last Sunday. William was from the Virginia, MN area up on the Iron Range in St. Louis County. Virginia is about 10 miles from where I grew up!

        • John

          I grew up in VA MN. Was thinking about asking my folks if they knew any Dodges up there that they could ask.

          • Tony Glavan

            John, another one of the names on the list is Edward Ryan and I strongly believe he was from the Palo-Markham area. Unfortunately Ryan is a common name. I already called a Ryan family in Eveleth but there was no relation.

      • Tony Glavan

        I made a mistake in my previous reply to you. At the time I did not realize there were 2 different Dodge names on the list. If you happen to see this message please move forward with your plan to contact the person you mentioned.

    • Sally Stevens

      This is such a great example of how collaborative our museums are, here and abroad. Great news–we have found a photo of Bernard Cassellius and it’s been forwarded!

      • Tony Glavan

        Now THAT is a wonderful photo! Thank you so much!

      • Joek Hulsmann

        Thank you so much Sally, it’s uploaded to the database!

  • Matt

    Best story I’ll read today, and it’s only 8:20 AM – even with the inevitable 5:30 PM DC-news dump.

  • Guest

    “Sophie and Jan have been going to the cemetery every single Memorial Day since the war war ended,” Glavan says. “She would like to be in contact with family to let them know.”

    THAT is a true gift and true appreciation. Thank you to all overseas who care about the fallen.

  • Guest

    Told to me by my father, a Marine in the Pacific WWII:

    We waded ashore thru murderous fire, with all the safety and protection the United States of America could put into …… a khaki shirt.

    That helped me realize what a thing it is to do your duty at all costs.

  • Erik Petersen

    When someone is killed shortly before the end of a war, particularly this one that ostensibly has a hard end date, there is this inclination to view it as unluckier than normal, unluckier than say being killed in the middle of the war. I understand the inclination, but I don’t think it stands as a matter of logic. I’m not articulate enough perhaps to explain why, but I don’t think time and timing work that way.

    My great uncle was killed in Italy on 4/29/45, when most of Europe had been under a de facto cease fire for a couple days. But, both sides lacked for this knowledge in this spot in north Italy at that moment.

    • Guest

      That is the point made in the excellent book “All Quiet on the Western Front”.

      • Erik Petersen

        Oh. Well there I go having an impressive brain for once.

    • Jim in RF

      John Kerry’s line about Vietnam: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

    • KariBemidji

      One of the last episodes of Band of Brothers addresses this: too many young men, with too much time and alcohol at their disposal. To make it through D-Day to the end of the war and to be killed by a drunk driver is heartbreaking.

    • On the other hand, on 4/29/45 there was still the very real prospect that all of those US soldiers in Europe – those who hadn’t yet gotten the “points” needed to go home – would soon be shipped to the Pacific to invade Japan in November (Operation Olympic, in Kyushu, in November ’45; Operation Coronet, in the Kanto Plain/Tokyo, in February ’46).

  • Tony Glavan

    For those interested in looking for photos for the servicemen listed, you will after their name either the county in Minnesota they were from OR the city in Minnesota they were from. Those are key clues as to where to begin your search. Joek (the Dutch gentleman mentioned in the story) as contacted as many of the historical societies from each county as he could find.

  • John F.

    Great story, Bob. Thank you.

    I spend a portion of my work day researching the world wars and I come across these stories every so often. I always appreciate the dedication of people that help identify those who served in the war. This work is crucial – we must not forget the sacrifices of this great conflict.

  • Joek Hulsmann

    We now have a photo of Norman Twetten and Bernard Cassellius as well!

  • Joek Hulsmann
  • Meribah

    The Dutch people are incredible. Much of the Netherlands was liberated by Canadians, and they have never forgotten that, and make sure that the generation coming up is aware. Very very heart-warming to know that our guys did not die in vain.

  • Deborah DiScenza

    Another failing of America. We talk about being Grateful to those who fought for us and those who died for us. But have we made sure that a veteran’s messy grave was cleaned when we went to visit our dead. Have we volunteered to “adopt” a veteran who came home affected physically and mentally by checking in on them, letting them know that we care and that we’re really there for them. We expect the government to take care of all that. We see their overgrown gravestones and we think, “someone should do something about that” as we walk away. Next time, syp and clear the grave yourself. We’ve gotten lazy and keep expecting “someone to do something about that.” Maybe you or I should be that someone.